Kodet Architectural Group receives one of AIA Minnesota’s most prestigious honors for its 35-year commitment to design excellence and client and community service

By John Reinan

When Kodet Architectural Group took on a major renewal of Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Minneapolis, they knew they had to honor the spirit of the place—right down to the smallest detail. The firm’s stewardship of every aspect of the project was a source of inspiration and comfort, says Ty Tallakson, who served as congregation president and builder’s rep during the two-year renovation, which ended in 2016. “They constantly displayed an attention to detail as well as an awareness of the big picture,” says Tallakson.

For its 35 years of outstanding performance in the challenging fields of religious, institutional, and educational architecture, as well as historic restoration, Kodet Architectural Group was awarded AIA Minnesota’s 2017 Firm Award. The honor also recognizes the significant volunteer activities of its staff, who contribute their time and talents to dozens of community organizations.

Kodet wins praise from its clients not only for its superior client service but also for its thoughtful and nimble design sense. “They come up with some outstanding designs that fit in very tight locations,” says Clyde Kane, design and construction manager for Minneapolis Public Schools, who has worked with Kodet on more than a dozen major projects since the 1990s. “In outstate areas, they have acres and acres of land they can build a school on. But in a city, you’ve got to have a certain knack for fitting a building into the urban complex.”

Founder Ed Kodet, FAIA, who recently sold the firm to four principals—Mike Schellin, AIA, Teri Nagel, Mandi Tauferner, AIA, and Daniel Kodet, Assoc. AIA—but remains as chairman, says he’s always welcomed the challenge of working in an urban environment. “You look to reflect the character, scale, and context of the neighborhood,” he says, citing the Burroughs Community School in South Minneapolis as an example. Nestled along a busy street, bordered by parks and the massive Mount Olivet Lutheran Church complex, the building seems both modern and timeless. The architects incorporated the entry from the original 1920 Burroughs School, painstakingly disassembling it stone by stone and reassembling it as a focal point in the new structure.

Kodet Architectural Group believes that the best designs come from close collaboration between architect and client. “It’s orchestrating, asking questions, shaping their vision,” says Schellin. “It’s very rewarding to help the client realize their vision.” Adds Ed Kodet: “We have no problem with saying, ‘You have to elevate your standards a little bit.’ We will press the point.

“In the end,” he says, “the building has to work. It has to be a place people like coming to every day. It has to have a sense of joy and a sense of pride.”

In the institutional field, budgets are watched especially closely. Longtime Kodet vice president Ken Stone, AIA, says the firm isn’t afraid to take ownership of the dollars and cents. “We hit them almost every meeting with the budget, track it all the way through,” he says. “It keeps everybody honest.” And clients appreciate it.

“They were our absolute ally on the money piece,” says Tallakson. “They would look at every line and every dime and make sure it made sense and was applied to the right area. It probably drove the general contractor crazy. But we wanted somebody watchdogging it for us.”

The firm has also learned that small things can have a big impact on design. Kodet’s architects are noted for their use of wood detailing. “You can use simple materials and make them look elegant,” says firm principal Teri Nagel. “It may be stucco, but you can add depth and textures and joinery.”

In its school designs, Kodet pays particular attention to the media center, using high ceilings, natural light, and wood finishes to create a welcoming environment in a space they consider the heart of the school. The firm also includes a fireplace in nearly every school it designs, an unexpected touch in the 21st century. There’s a reason for that, says Ed Kodet.

“Sometimes the school is the best environment a kid will be in all day,” he says. “We’re persistent about adding details that humanize the environment.”

They’re also persistent in their volunteer commitments. Staff pledge hundreds of hours to the University of Minnesota School of Architecture Mentor Program, Minneapolis City of Lakes Rotary, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Habitat for Humanity, Art Buddies, Girl Scouts of America, Boy Scouts of America, and several other community-focused efforts. One of Kodet’s favorite annual activities is Canstruction, a charity competition and exhibition in which volunteers design and build structures out of cans of food—and then donate all the cans to local foodbanks.

The human touch helps the firm win the loyalty of its clients, many of whom are repeat customers. When the Good Shepherd project was finished, the architects weren’t. “They came to the grand opening,” says Tallakson. “They made themselves available for all the events.” And Ed Kodet added an extra touch that made a big impression.

“He actually did a watercolor of the head of Jesus at Good Shepherd and presented it to me at the grand opening,” Tallakson continues. “It totally caught me flat-footed. I kind of welled up. And I have a feeling I wouldn’t have gotten a watercolor from the other firms we interviewed.

“We locked arms with them and went forward,” says Tallakson. “There was a bonding that happened. We are so grateful that we picked Kodet.”